The photo essay below is the sixth installment of a personal account of my two years in Fiji and Rotuma from October 1959 through August 1961. The main purpose of this project is to provide photographic images that might be of interest to contemporary Rotumans.
I have forgotten the names of some of the people who appear in the photos and would welcome your help in identifying them. Information identifying people should be sent to <email@example.com> Please identify the photos by the numbers (#) in the captions.
Episode 6: Aisea and Ieli's Wedding
On 20 February 1960 I was privileged to attend the wedding of Aisea Aitu and Ieli Rigamoto at Oinafa Village. It was truly a grand affair. Ieli was the granddaughter of Gagaj Tokaniua and Aisea was a school teacher who was regarded as one of the most brilliant men on the island. I'd guess that there were more than a thousand people who attended, including most (if not all) of the chiefs and the district officer (Fred Ieli).
In a way, this turned out to be a breakthrough event for me. One of the problems I was having was that even though I was quite young (25 years old at the time), people treated me with a great deal of respect because I was American. That made it a little hard for me to really get to know people because they tended to act very formally in my presence. This wedding gave me a chance to change people's attitudes somewhat. What happened is this: the han mane'ak su (ceremonial clown) at the wedding was Ioana, who was known to be the very best. She was dressed like a man, with her face painted black, and was performing in the middle of the marae, where everyone could watch. I decided to add to the fun, so I got up and walked out to her and began to clown with her. I gave her several smoochie kisses, which made everyone laugh like mad. After a few minutes of this I walked back to my place in the ri hapa, but before I got there Gagaj Tokaniua got up from his chair and stopped me. With a big smile on his face, he took off his tie and wrapped it around my wrist, which people told me was a great honor. The lesson I learned was that if you give people a chance to laugh at you, and don't take yourself too seriously, everyone is more comfortable. In any case, after that, most people loosened up quite a bit in my presence.
In addition to the clowning that kept everyone in a merry mood, a superb tautoga was performed. I was surprised to see that the bride and groom didn't smile very much and didn't seem to be enjoying the event as much as the guests, but then I found out that their marriage was arranged, and that they hardly knew each other. This was quite common in 1960.
Aisea and Ieli's wedding was special in several ways. For one thing, it was a really interesting blend of Rotuman and European custom. As you can see from the above photo, both bride and groom were elegantly dressed in formal European clothes. There was also a three-tiered wedding cake and, of course, a church service (conducted by Rev Elaisa Taito). But they also performed all the Rotuman rituals, including a kava ceremony, the öf sope (ritual hair cutting) and fau (wrapping in fine mats).
Aisea and Ieli were truly a beautiful couple, and I was deeply saddened to learn, after my return to Rotuma many years later, that Ieli had died in childbirth.